Research questions link between pay and performance

In all the arguments about the feasibility of pay-for-performance management systems, few people ever question the underlying assumption that linking pay to performance will motivate employees.

But the conventional wisdom doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, said Laura Langbein, a professor at American University's Department of Public Administration and Policy.

After crunching data collected by the Merit Systems Protection Board, Langbein reached the opposite conclusion: The closer the link between pay and performance, the lower the level of performance. “It is frequently demotivating,” she said.

It is not that employees do not care about money. Pay must be both fair and satisfactory. But don’t expect a Pavlovian response if you dangle a slightly bigger paycheck in front of them.

“It’s like my dog,” Langbein said. “My dog understands the only reason to sit up is to get a reward. It works well for a dog, but it doesn’t work well for federal employees.”

However, pay-for-performance systems often have one important benefit: They inspire managers to sit down with employees and clarify their goals. “Employees like that,” Langbein said. “They are willing to work, and they want to do a good job.”

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group